Marine Gen. John Allen, the allied commander in Afghanistan, has delivered his long-delayed – but only partial – recommendations for winding down the war to the White House and the Defense Department, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who spent the holidays at his California home, returned to the Pentagon to find on his desk Allen’s plan for the size of the force to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, said George Little, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
Allen’s recommendations did not include his guidance on the pace of withdrawal for the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan but “the first thing is to establish how many stay in Afghanistan” after 2014, Little said.
According to Little the size of the remaining force will be the subject of talks next week at the White House between President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Little declined comment on Allen’s recommendation but the U.S. has been considering a residual force of about 10,000 advisers and special operators after the 66,000 combat troops pull out.
“We hope to reach a decision soon” on the size of the continuing U.S. presence, Little said.
Allen will turn over his command and leave Afghanistan in February with his future uncertain while the Defense Department investigates his alleged “inappropriate” correspondence with a Florida woman, Pentagon officials said.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, the former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, will replace Allen as commander of the International Security Assistance Force with headquarters in Kabul.
The February switch “was not connected in any way” with the ongoing Pentagon Inspector General’s office investigation of Allen’s voluminous correspondence with Florida socialite Jill Kelley, Little said.
Dunford was confirmed by the Senate as the new Afghan commander after a hearing in November before the Senate Armed Services Committee at which Allen had been scheduled to be heard on his nomination by President Obama to take over the European Command.
Allen’s nomination -- as well as his recommendation for a withdrawal glide path to 2014 -- was put on hold while the IG’s investigates more than 20,000 pages of emails and other correspondence between Allen and Kelley.
Allen's predecessor as the overall U.S. commander in Afghanistan, then-Army Gen. David Petraeus, resigned as CIA director in November after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI learned of the affair after investigating anonymous and harassing emails -- ultimately traced to Broadwell -- that were sent to Kelley. The FBI investigation also turned up the emails between Allen and Kelley.
Correction: An earlier version of the story stated that Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, is said to favor leaving at least 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014. Through a spokeswoman, Austin has denied favoring such a plan. Austin has never publicly stated an opinion on the post-2014 force nor has he been included in discussions this week between Pentagon officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on troop withdrawals, the spokeswoman said.